Wild Horses of Shannon County – Eminence, Missouri - Atlas Obscura

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Wild Horses of Shannon County

Eminence, Missouri

It's as if the herds walked straight out of a fairy tale into the Missouri wilds. 


Mostly dappled grey and white, these wild horses have roamed Missouri valleys for more than a century. 

No one knows exactly where the horses came from, but some believe that the horses were released when farmers fell on hard times. In the early 20th century, the Great Depression showed no mercy to those living near the St. Francois mountains.  Overlogging and the Dust Bowl made livestock care nearly impossible in the Missouri Ozarks. So in the hills of Shannon County, destitute farmers, it’s thought, began releasing their horses into the wild. Left on their own, the herds thrived and continue to wander the Missouri wilderness.

But the survival of the Shannon County horses was not without adversity.  In the early 1990s, the federal government sought to remove the wild horses.  For years, locals fought to protect their magical unicorn-like ungulates. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a bill into law that protected the herd as a permanent part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Since then, the Missouri Wild Horse League keeps track of the horses to maintain a population of 50 horses. Extra foals and fillies are adopted out upon weaning.  

Today there are four herds that trot around the 80,000 acres of the protected Ozark riverways near the Jack’s Fork River and Current River.  The herds are made up mostly of mares to keep the population low.  They foal in the spring and summer.

Know Before You Go

The Shawnee Creek herd is almost always present at dawn and dusk.  A campground next to the field and creek is a great place to try and catch a glimpse of the animals.  You will know you've reached the right campground because there will be lots of horse poop.

Cell phone service is spotty in Eminence. Bring a gazetteer and print your information before departure.

There are four herds around the Ozark Scenic Riverways.  The Shawnee Creek herd is the easiest to spot, followed by the Round Spring herd (at the Round Spring campground), then the Broadfoot herd.  The Rocky Creek herd is the most feral and difficult to find.

Keep at least a 50 f00t distance from the horses. Do not feed or pet the animals.  Keep in mind they are unpredictable wild animals and stay calm while viewing.  No off-road vehicles on the agricultural fields; foot traffic only.

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